Sometimes yoga teachers toss around a lot of sanskrit words and you have no idea what they mean when you are trying to follow along. When I'm teaching a class, I always do my best to say the English phrase alongside the sanskrit, but I'm sure I've confused someone before too!
One word that you might not be as familiar with is "drishti." This is not a pose but rather a technique that we try to employ to get deeper into our yoga postures, or asanas.
The Physical Purpose of Drishti
Have you ever been trying to hold a pose but you keep wobbling all over the place? If you reflect back to that moment, you were probably distracted by different things you were thinking about. Maybe you were looking at yourself in the mirror and being critical. Maybe you could hear your kids playing in the other room and were hoping they weren't destroying anything.
In yoga, we practice drishti to help us settle our thoughts and focus on the present moment. It's amazing how much easier it can be to balance when you keep a steady gaze on one thing that is not moving. (Meaning—not yourself! We are never perfectly still when balancing, and even the slight swaying in the mirror can make it harder. Try looking up just above your head to something else stationary on the wall.)
Beyond the first aspect of looking at one particular spot, practicing drishti also involves softening. Wherever you choose to look, keep your eyes relaxed. If you notice that you are holding your breath or straining your eyes or clenching your jaw, work to let those things go and get a little softer.
The Emotional Purpose of Drishti
To take it even deeper beyond holding poses longer and having better balance, the practice of drishti also changes our purpose and intention with each posture. It is believed in yoga that where you send your gaze, your energy follows. This is why we look up in so many positions. We want to send our energy upwards and stay focused on the intention behind our practice.
Your intention is whatever you want it to be. I always take a moment before I start moving into the hard postures to close my eyes, breathe, and decide why I am doing yoga at that moment. Sometimes my intention is to take care of my body and strengthen my muscles. Sometimes my intention is to learn how to be more flexible in yoga so I can learn to be more flexible in my life. Your intention could also be for someone else. Maybe someone in your life is in need of healing, and you want to dedicate your practice to them and focus on them in each posture you do.
Practicing drishti will help you remember your intention all throughout your practice, and it will give you even more motivation to stick with those postures that are tough. If you can focus on your "why," you can truly do anything.